When COVID-19 struck, decades of “how it’s done” in the business world walked out the front door and took the office-centric workforce with it. Two years later, the world of work has fundamentally — and permanently — changed as flexibility and remote work have become a part of a new normal.

In a hybrid work world, the greatest opportunity lies, as Jim Collins notes, in embracing the genius of the “and” rather than the tyranny of the “or,” as described in “Built to Last,” and combining the power of in-person collaboration and connection with the flexibility of remote options. Here in the Puget Sound area, this is especially top of mind for us as we fully open our headquarters.

We know finding the best of both worlds isn’t a trivial task.

At Microsoft, we’ve learned from conversations with customers, our ongoing research, and our own experience as a global organization of 180,000-plus employees that redesigning how, when and where work happens requires more than technology alone. Hybrid work also demands a culture of intentional inclusion and relies on proactive actions from everyone in an organization to create an environment where all employees have an engaging experience while embracing how they work best.

Bottom line: The digital employee experience is just as important as the physical one, and to succeed at hybrid, we’ll need to weave together a digital fabric that brings everyone together across an organization — all while focusing on culture.

An inclusive experience is especially crucial in a hybrid meeting. As a technology company, our innovation principles around meeting experiences are grounded in empathy — making sure people who are not in the room feel the same engagement as those who are. For example, we designed new physical layouts for meeting rooms that reorient in-room seating to face the video display directly, so on-site and remote participants are face-to-face.


We’ve also focused on artificial intelligence-powered in-room camera technology that creates individual video streams for everyone seated at the physical table, bringing them into clearer view for remote participants. And to support all that technology innovation, we’ve asked our employees to follow hybrid meeting best practices. These include meeting etiquette like reminding team members to watch for colleagues with their hands up, bringing in more perspective by using the in-meeting chat, or using emoji reactions to amplify a colleague’s point.

Of course, meetings are just one aspect of building an inclusive and seamless experience in a hybrid work world. The challenge of keeping employees connected and thriving was a primary driver for us to prioritize innovation in an emerging product category called employee experience platforms (EXP).

Put simply, an EXP is a digital hub that brings resources, knowledge and insights into the flow of work. As we’ve innovated in that category, we’ve been focused on a holistic employee experience, ensuring that this technology could support company culture and empower employees through learning, well-being and easy access to the information they need. Intelligent recommendations such as just-in-time trainings or experts at the company relevant to a project can support career growth and help break down knowledge silos. To support workplace well-being, an EXP can also remind employees to take advantage of quiet hours or work-related meditations and offer insights for managers, for instance when teams are feeling meeting overload. Company culture and norms need to empower action based on these intelligent insights. Employees can’t take a suggested training if they don’t have time to learn, and embracing quiet hours requires leaders encouraging their teams to truly unplug.

Beyond the current tools we have for hybrid work, the metaverse is on the horizon to become another powerful avenue for connection, inclusion and co-creation at work. Just like the rapid transition we experienced over the past two years as we embraced video conferences, the metaverse has similar potential to help virtual attendees feel like they are in the room with their team. Some early thinking involves creating a virtual campus or digital twin of a company’s physical office, where employees from any location could gather as avatars for presentations, celebrations or experience serendipitous run-ins with colleagues. While we’ve seen a dramatic sea change in how we use technology at work already, we’re inspired by the unknown discoveries still to come as we explore new and future ways of working.

The pandemic has shown a partnership between technology and people is critical in a hybrid world. You can adopt the most cutting-edge technology, but if you don’t prioritize culture and intentional inclusion, you’ll never realize the full impact of these tools and platforms — something we are keenly focused on for our own employees. The future of work is a hybrid environment, powered by technology, that will enable more collaboration, more flexibility and more innovation. Embracing a growth mindset where you are open to new technologies and inclusive norms will be key to making this future workplace work for everyone.